An interesting thing begins to occur as I lay in bed for two weeks. I'm feeling very contracted, like the walls around me are closing in and I'm lying in a compactor. My body stiffens, the muscles and tendons tighten, and my brain gets foggy and slow. I think I'm repeating myself a lot. Of course that also could be attributed to the pain meds.
Over the past two weeks as I heal from a fractured ankle, I've spent a lot of time sitting, thinking, and rambling on to any friend that dares to stop by to keep me company. But mostly thinking. I've thought about our nations aging population and how challenging it is or will be for some, when the body begins to slow down and becomes less mobile.
I'm reminded of my grandmother, who spent her final years in a care facility in Northern Arizona. On my last visit to see her she was unable to walk or talk. But her tear filled hazel eyes looked deeply into mine as if she were searching and at the same time trying to speak to me. I talked to her, held her hand, combed her hair and tried not to cry.
In her younger years she was a spit-fire of a woman. Short-fused but loved her family deeply. She was always moving, either cleaning the house, cooking or walking to "downtown". She never learned to drive a car so she walked everywhere. She was a bit fanatical about brushing her teeth too, something she passed on to me. She never wanted false teeth, so floss and brush everyday she did. She kept her teeth, but now before me she was losing the rest of her body.
I come from a fairly physical family. We all enjoyed sports as we were growing up. I loved swimming, tennis, played some football and soccer. In my 20’s I began practicing yoga regularly. And began teaching yoga in my mid 20's. One of the things I loved the most about practicing yoga was how open it made me feel. The open feeling began with my body and over the years it began to open my mind.
I've often remembered my yoga practice during those times when "practicing" was impossible. Like the time I was riding in a packed, nearly broken down bus traveling down a dirt road in Nepal. I remember wondering if this tin can of a bus would make it even a few miles. It made the 130 mile trip (in 4 ½ hours). As the trip began, I felt rather nervous. The interior of the bus was constructed of metal pieces with sharp jagged edges everywhere, jagged like lids that were removed from a can of beans. The pieces of tin were soldered together to make frames for the seats. I tried not to scrape myself on any of the edges. As I knew I was in for a long ride, I remembered my practice. I began to take slow deep breaths, I softened my body and mind and observed the people and animals around me. I took in the smell of dust and smoke from the burning fields coming in through the open windows. I didn't judge the smells, just noticed them. I began to feel unattached from my body and any discomforts my mind wanted to focus on. Instead I became acutely aware of my surroundings, the sounds of music and people speaking in foreign languages. I began to feel lighter, more spacious and open, less protected and contracted. I was in yoga! I felt more connected with my surrounding, not disconnected. Oftentimes when things become uncomfortable many of us do our best to disconnect from what we perceive as being the discomfort. But in truth becoming more aware and less attached is the key to lessening our discomfort.
Often we believe that yoga is something that we go somewhere to "do". But in fact yoga is something that is always with us at any given moment. There is no doubt that practicing yoga poses can give us an immediate feeling of openness in our bodies. However, even in the moments when the poses are impossible, yoga is still available to us.
Today, I worked my way down onto the floor. I began to practice some poses that worked well for my broken ankle. I twisted my spine and bended forward to stretch my legs and I managed a back bend and tri-pod down dog. I was able to get upside down with plow pose and shoulder stand. It felt so incredibly good to relax my tight muscles and breathe. I began to feel the space around me and inside my muscles and bones once again. My breath was able to move to all the open spaces and relax me deeply. I repeated out loud over and over, "I love yoga!"
Today I reflect on what I might do when I am no longer able to practice the poses. I'm reminded of that bus ride in Nepal. I'll breath and soften my body. I'll notice everything around me with acuteness... the colors, the sounds, the smells. I'll soften my mind. And through the softness will come the space. Space in my body and space in my mind.
As we kick off 2016, weather we are mobile or grief-stricken, healthy or suffering, may each of us begin to open to the experience of space. Remembering that when we exhale and soften, loosening that which we're holding on to so desperately, only then will we be fully alive, connected and at peace.